Taking Leave

Posted on February 5th, 2014 by

At the end of this month we say good-bye to Passages Through the Fire:  Jews and the Civil War.  I, for one, will be sad to see it go.  I’ve not only enjoyed the exhibit and the chance to work with Karen and Todd on our “Maryland edition”, but also the outstanding programs that Trillion put together and the fun we’ve had with our volunteer docents and museum educators on the special tours.

Closing February 27th!

Closing February 27th!

I’ve gained dozens of new insights over the last few months but the one that sticks with me is actually about “saying good-bye”.

Ross Kelbaugh

Ross Kelbaugh

When Ross Kelbaugh came to speak at JMM at the beginning of December, he spoke about the boom in photography in Baltimore at the start of the Civil War (and the involvement of members of the Jewish community like the Bendann brothers and David Bacharach in this new “high tech” industry).  As many as 50 photo studios were doing business here in 1861.  Why the boom?  Well one of the causes that Kelbaugh points to is a technological innovation know as cartes de visite.  Just before the start of the war, photographers perfected the technique of printing multiple copies of playing card-sized images to card stock.  These images were affordable, even for people of modest means and could be easily slipped into the mail for loved ones.  You can imagine that soldiers sent to staging areas, like Baltimore, were very anxious to share pictures of themselves in uniform with their loved ones and images of nearby battlefields could bring the war home in a way that was unthinkable just 10 years earlier.  This keen interest fueled the photography craze (more about this can be found in a New York Times’ “Disunion” column by Andrea Volpe from August 6, 2013).

School students visit Passages Through the Fire.

School students visit Passages Through the Fire.

I look at this as a first revolution in the concept of “away”.  For thousands of years, when husbands and sons went off to affairs of war or commerce, there was an absolute loss of connection.  Their wives, children and siblings in most cases had only their memories to rely on (or perhaps an old portrait) to invoke the image of the person who was truly “away”.  But the Civil War chipped away at the concept that saying good-bye completely severed visual contact with those who were away.

Today, we’ve experienced a second revolution in “away”.  With Skype, Face Time, Facebook and more, we almost never completely lose visual contact with those who have gone away, whether they are at summer camp or at a base 10,000 miles from home.   The technology has changed what it means to take leave and endure separation.

All this is not to say that we have solved the problems of being apart.  Images can be a poor substitute for human contact.  But nothing ever leaves us as completely as it once did, and we’ll have the pictures of the Civil War exhibit on our website to prove it.



(editor’s note:  Passages Through the Fire closes on February 27th.  Due to the fragile nature of the artifacts this will be the end of the exhibit tour, everything will be returned to the lenders.  If you haven’t seen it yet, we encourage you to take advantage of your last opportunity)

Civil War cropped 1A blog post by executive director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts by Marvin, click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

MedChi turns 215!

Posted on January 27th, 2014 by

Bookplate designed for Dr. Julius Friedenwald, son of Aaron. The inscription reads “Wise words from the healer.” Collection of MedChi.

Bookplate designed for Dr. Julius Friedenwald, son of Aaron. The inscription reads “The words of the wise are healing.”
Collection of MedChi.

In 1799, Paris was the place to get a modern medical education, inoculation against smallpox was finally gaining widespread acceptance (having first been discovered nearly fifty years earlier), most drugs were made from herbs, and Marylanders usually tended their sick at home, sometimes with the help of a doctor. Also in 1799, as new ideas about health and medicine were percolating throughout the western world, the Medical and Chirurgical [surgical] Faculty of Maryland was organized in an attempt to regulate and support the medical profession throughout the state. One of a handful of such societies in the United States at the time, its papers of incorporation stated its mission to “prevent the citizens (of Maryland) from risking their lives in the hands of ignorant practitioners or pretenders to the healing art.”

Dr. Abram B. Arnold, c. 1890.  Collection of MedChi; photograph by Meg Fielding.

Dr. Abram B. Arnold, c. 1890.
Collection of MedChi; photograph by Meg Fielding.

Now known as MedChi: The Maryland State Medical Society, the 215-year-old association—celebrating its anniversary this week—has notched some significant achievements. MedChi directors founded Maryland’s first medical school (1807), the world’s first college of dental surgery in the country (1839), and a school of pharmacy (1857)—all are now part of the University of Maryland.

Entrance to MedChi’s headquarters, built in 1909.  Image courtesy of MedChi; photograph by Meg Fielding.

Entrance to MedChi’s headquarters, built in 1909.
Image courtesy of MedChi; photograph by Meg Fielding.

While this is very impressive, its trove of state medical history is the source of its interest to the JMM.  Collections of medical instruments, portraits of board members and other Maryland physicians, antique medical journals, and the papers of the Society are housed in its early 20th century campus in mid-town Baltimore.  JMM Curator Karen Falk and Board Member Dr. Robert Keehn were lucky enough to visit behind the scenes at MedChi last week for a first-hand look at these riches.

Dr. Joshua I. Cohen, c. 1865. Image courtesy of MedChi.

Dr. Joshua I. Cohen, c. 1865.
Image courtesy of MedChi.

Three early Jewish physicians in Baltimore were among the directors of MedChi: Joshua I. Cohen, a member of one of Baltimore’s earliest Jewish families, was an ear specialist, audiologist of some renown, and president of MedChi in 1857-58; Abram B. Arnold received his MD from the Washington University Hospital of Baltimore (the hospital where Edgar Allen Poe died, later known as Church Home and Hospital) around 1850, published a Manual of Nervous Disorders in 1855, and served as president of MedChi  in 1877-78; and ophthalmologist Aaron Friedenwald, a University of Maryland Medical School graduate (1860), Jewish communal activist, and president of MedChi 1880-90. There is even an “Aaron Friedenwald Room” in the current MedChi building, complete with portrait, dedication plaque, and personal objects from the Friedenwald family.

Dr. Aaron Friedenwald, c. 1900. Collection of the JMM; photograph by Shelby Silvernell.

Dr. Aaron Friedenwald, c. 1900.
Collection of the JMM; photograph by Shelby Silvernell.

Aaron Friedenwald, his sons Edgar, Julius and Harry, and grandson Jonas formed a dynasty of physicians in Baltimore that will play an important role in our upcoming exhibition on “Jews, Health and Healing,” planned to open in fall 2015. Many thanks to Meg Fielding at MedChi for taking us on a tour of the collections, providing images for this post, and for responding enthusiastically to our exhibition project.

Library stacks of the MedChi archives. Image courtesy of MedChi; photograph by Meg Fielding

Library stacks of the MedChi archives.
Image courtesy of MedChi; photograph by Meg Fielding

karenA blog post by curator Karen Falk. To read more posts by Karen, click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

JMM Insights: January 2014

Posted on January 17th, 2014 by

People are often surprised to hear how long it takes from the time an exhibition idea is conceived to its installation in one of our galleries. In fact, exhibition development is a long and multi-tiered process and involves the contributions of a team of individuals each of whom brings diverse skills and areas of expertise to the table that are necessary to create a rich and engaging high quality exhibition. In addition, we often find that the final exhibition is vastly different from what we had anticipated when the project was conceived as we follow the trail of research that often reveals new exciting discoveries suggesting a different interpretive tact than what was originally proposed.

Curator Karen Falk

Curator Karen Falk

At the JMM, we are fortunate to have a skilled exhibition curator, Karen Falk, who takes the lead on developing original exhibitions (including Chosen Food and the upcoming Jews, Health, and Healing project). The curator plays a pivotal role in shaping the exhibit’s big ideas and concepts; conducting research; selecting photographs, documents, and objects to include and determining where in the exhibit they best fit; writing the exhibit script and label text; and supervising the exhibition design and fabrication process. While the curator guides the process, exhibition development at the JMM is very much a collaborative effort. Other members of the team from within the JMM include our collections manager (Jobi Zink), who oversees loan processing, artifact conservation, and exhibit installation; our education director (Ilene Dackman-Alon) who ensures that exhibit content and interactives meet the needs of school audiences; CFO (Susan Press) who develops project budgets; and our executive director (Marvin Pinkert) and assistant director (Deborah Cardin) who participate in various stages of exhibition development. Additional JMM staff members play significant roles in other important aspects such as program development, marketing, gallery preparation, and fundraising. The JMM also relies on the talents of consultants to assist in the critical areas of exhibition design and fabrication. The exhibition designer is typically brought in early in the process and works closely with the project team to refine concepts and to create floor plans, interactive activities, and a graphic identity for the exhibit. Once the design stage is complete, exhibition fabricators work to build exhibit elements including printing panels, labels, and background images. This entire process from start to finish takes a minimum of two years.

Mark your calendars!

Mark your calendars!

Because we do not have enough resources in house to develop original exhibits to install something new in the Feldman Gallery once, much less twice a year, we also rent exhibitions for display that originate at other museums. While traveling exhibits do not involve as much work, JMM staff still must oversee details large and small from negotiating contract agreements to taking care of shipping and insurance arrangements to modifying the exhibit’s design to fit the specifications of our galleries. Some exhibits, such as the upcoming Project Mah Jongg which comes to us from the Museum of Jewish Heritage, are installed more or less as they were originally designed with just a few modifications. For others, we make larger adjustments to the exhibit’s design so that we can add materials that reflect the Maryland experience. For example, for our current exhibit, Passages through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, we conducted extensive research into the history of Maryland Jewish involvement in the war and added many new stories and artifacts. The resulting installation in our gallery is quite different from how it originally appeared at Yeshiva University Museum.

Mendes Cohen, 1818

Mendes Cohen, 1818

We often get asked how we come up with ideas for exhibits and there really is no simple answer to this question. Topics come to us from many sources including staff, volunteers, board members, visitors, and interns. Sometimes an exhibit project is proposed for a specific reason such as a desire to showcase a particular collection or to tie in with larger communal events.  One current exhibit under development, The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen, was initially proposed by executive director Marvin Pinkert as we were looking to fill in what we thought was going to be a small gap between two other exhibits. The original rationale for this project was an interest in participating in Baltimore’s anniversary celebration of the War of 1812 through the creation of a small scale exhibit focusing on Mendes Cohen, a member of one of Jewish Baltimore’s early prominent families who was a traveler, adventurer, and collector. Our initial proposal was to focus on his wartime involvement at Fort McHenry. We also were eager to display some of the artifacts that we have on display belonging to Mendes including a portable writing desk and jacket.

A puzzle preview

A puzzle preview

As we began exhibit research, we uncovered many new discoveries about Mendes and his family and what began as plans for a small temporary exhibit have turned into a full-fledged interactive exhibit taking the form of a maze (designed by Minotaur Mazes) that will be on view for nine months. The maze format serves as an apt metaphor for Mendes’ life which took many twists and turns. At certain points in the maze, visitors will have to make choices that simulate decisions that Mendes made. Thanks to the efforts of researcher Joseph Abel, who has been working with us on the project for the past few months, we have been able to immerse ourselves in his life by exploring a treasure trove of letters written by Mendes housed at the Maryland Historical Society that provide meticulous accounts of his journeys to Europe and the Middle East (Mendes was the first American citizen to receive official permission from the Ottomans to visit Palestine). Through Joseph’s analysis of these letters as well as of documents housed in other archives, he has uncovered some wonderful new insight into the difficulties of traveling in the 1830s as well as new information about the places he visited during his journey.

The resulting research has led us in a new path. Our latest concept for the exhibit focuses on the search for identity and tasks visitors to explore the many different ways that Mendes defined himself through his family relationships, religious observance, professional obligations, and search for adventure through travels. At a recent meeting with our exhibit designer, Kelly Fernandi of Minotaur Mazes, we were delighted by how he captured the essence of this concept through interpretive panel designs and interactive activities. We all left the meeting feeling enthusiastic about our plans for The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen and are continuing to research new sources and explore new avenues for bringing Mendes’ incredible story to life. We look forward to keeping you apprised of our progress and hope you will join us to discover Mendes for yourself when we open the exhibit in September 2014.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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